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Hypothyroidism – my journey (with regular updates)Standard
Hi there – several people have asked for advice from my
own research and experience, so I thought I would do a
blog that I could share with everyone about this.
Hypothyroidism is the one that slows you down as
opposed to the hyperthyroidism which speeds you up
and is actually trickier to treat.
I only found out a few months ago that I am hypothyroid,
with my TSH levels being over 4 times what they should
be. For normal people the reading should be about 2
whereas mine was almost 9. Now, doctors have different criteria, and won’t usually treat you until you are well over the normal range, so if you are around 3 or 4 it is only something to perhaps retest again later rather than something to try to address straight away, which seems crazy, as there is a lot one can do if you understand what is going on, so you could perhaps prevent it getting worse. As ever, the trick is for us to educate ourselves and take a high level of responsibility for our own health.
TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone, and these come down the chain from the pituitary and hypothalamus trying to get the thyroid to produce what it should. This is normally the first test doctors will do, and if these levels are high, then the thyroid hormones are correspondingly low. This is not the whole story though as the main thyroid hormone is T4 and again this is the only one they usually test for to start with, however, your body has to be able to convert that into useable T3 – and there are also other elements, T1’s and T2’s and some other bits. Plus even if you make what you need there may be issues with receptors etc, as other things can block these, so there is a whole host of things your body needs to be able to produce, convert, and use thyroid hormones, and depending on what your issue is, you need different treatment / supplements (I am adding some notes re this onto the end of the blog). For all types of hypothyroidism it is a good option to consider supplementing our diet, plus ensuring our digestive system is working well.
My doctor was not interested in testing my mineral / vitamin levels although there would have been many many useful things to look at there, so I was left to take my own supplements which include all the possible things I may need. This can be quite tricky as some things have to be properly in balance for example, selenium and iodine, as if either one is either too low or too high this can in itself cause hypothyroidism. (Remember that fluoride in toothpaste or water can block your receptors for iodine.) Selenium is short in our soil so we don’t necessarily get it from our diet even if we are eating the right things, maybe we need to eat more organically. (A lot of the things in processed foods can interfere with your body’s ability to cope as well, also toxins from our environment, cleaning products etc – remember we absorb things through our skin.) Stress of course can be a big factor, and emotional distress such as death of a loved one, or being treated badly at work.
A major factor which can cause hypothyroidism is female hormone imbalance. At around my age (or this can vary a lot for a few women) our hormones reduce incredibly, literally fall off a cliff on the graph, and imbalances here can contribute to thyroid and other issues. It is no co-incidence that women suffer from hypothyroidism much much more than men. For example estrogen/progesterone imbalance can cause copper build up (the birth control pill can also do this, and the injection is even worse), and this puts strain on your liver as well as contributing to thyroid issues. Sluggish adrenals can also have this effect. Fortunately zinc can help a lot to counter the copper. Some of the old dental fillings can also cause issues in your bloodstream. You should also be careful with your vitamin/mineral supplements so that you don’t get too much of some things such as chromium. If we have toxic build up in the body, then muscle pains are often an issue. Too much iron will give you constipation.
I had the classic hypothyroid symptom of waking up in the morning feeling like I had been beaten up and hardly able to walk at first due to muscle pain, mostly in upper legs and hips, but this could sometimes be almost everywhere. So I had to get up early and slowly stretch and wake up better before being able to get about my day. For years I had been managing to keep moving, doing several physical jobs, lots of walking, dancing, yoga etc, but suddenly this became too much for me…… probably something to do with one of my recent jobs being extra physically demanding. If I kept moving, my body did not lock up, but now I was becoming too tired to keep this up, and I knew I had to make some changes. I thought I was doing myself a favour pushing myself but it turns out I was actually straining my ability to cope with the changes going on in my body.
Also, apparently if you are hypothyroid, then it seems highly likely that your adrenals will be under stress (fatigued), but my doc would not test for that either. The adrenals are also a backup for the ovaries,so if you are having issues with female hormone imbalance supporting them can also help here. So I have taken it upon myself to supplement them with the adrenal mother hormone, from which others are derived – pregnenolone, and I have no idea to be perfectly honest what other option I had – but I do think it feels as if that is helping. DHEA and progesterone come from pregnenolone. Progesterone is good to balance estrogen and it is recommended to do this after taking estrogen for a bit (ie start the estrogen first for best effect, then balance it about a month later). DHEA is really good for the BRAIN, and also helps you age better, reducing dehydration problems etc. It also reduces antibodies. To start with I took pregnenolone every day, but am now rotating supplements so that I have this once every 3 days (it’s quite expensive so am glad this seems to be enough). My multivitamins and minerals (more details on these later) and evening primrose oil another day, and something called pycnogenol on the third day. This is from pine bark and helps increase blood flow, which seems to have helped clear my toxic build up and muscle pain. It is a potent anti-oxidant and also aids sleep, hot flushes, depression, vaginal dryness, fatigue, and headache. I think it is quite strong, and taking it every day might be too much, but i am sure it is helpful. We also need to remember to breathe deeply, stress can easily cause us to almost stop breathing properly!
When I first found out about the thyroid issue (following on from having to supplement with estrogen [pessaries are the best way to do this as it bypasses the liver so goes into your bloodstream without taxing it or being reduced. Also if you take it orally it can partially inactivate some of the thyroid hormones!], and drinking loads more water) due to extreme dryness, the first thing I did was to get lots of books to do research and then go to stay with my mum abroad for a while and educate myself before going back to the doctor. I did not just want to be bunged onto meds for the rest of my life without looking into it fully. My research showed me that although there was a lot I could do to help myself, I probably did still need some thyroxin, As it turns out, I am having a small amount of thyroxin, but other changes I had already made have helped a lot, and will probably mean I can manage on the minimum dose. I wanted to have a natural thyroid treatment which would have been hypoallergenic as well as contain the whole range of thyroid hormones, however it turned out this was not available to me. So I have had to accept a generic synthetic thyroxin, which has lactose and sucrose in it, and which is only T4. I will be having tests (8 weeks after starting) to see if the THS etc levels have become more normal. My doctor thinks I am bound to need a higher dose, but she said we have to start slowly and build up. We shall see, and I shall add updates to my blog. I suspect I may need seasonal adjustments, as I am well aware that I tend to be much worse in winter, so my follow up check (6 months after my 8 week one) should start to show that, as it will be into the start of winter.
One of my main concerns was that my thyroid issue might be related to my autoimmune issues – with the immune system being responsible for attacking the thyroid tissue. Apparently that is very common, but the doctor did test for thyroid antibodies, and the level is low, so it seems this is probably not the case, which is a relief. Also if you have autoimmune related thyroid issues, then you must take this into account when looking at diet, because some things may stimulate the immune system too much. (Immune disorders usually mean that the system is attacking itself, rather than it just being low. My T-lymphocytes are made okay, they are just destroyed again almost right away, but there are some cases where they aren’t produced in the first place, so understanding the basis is important.)
One of the major symptoms, apart from dehydration, was that I really felt the cold, in fact have always done so, but this was getting a lot worse. So I started to check my base body temperature first thing in the morning, before drinking or eating anything, and at other times, And to begin with it was way below normal, around 33 and 34 centigrade, but as I started to make dietary changes, this improved a lot, which is one of the reasons I think the diet is a big factor, even though I thought I was eating a healthy diet prior to this. It stays around 36 degrees now. (Taking meds like antibiotics can reduce your body temperature, but thankfully this didn’t happen when I just took a dose for a tooth abscess.) My weight by the way has stayed roughly the same since I transformed from child to woman, and I hope it stays that way. I used to always have slight seasonal fluctuations which I accepted as natural because my body simply wanted to store up a bit for winter, much as it would have loved to actually hibernate too! I tend to use the winter to do a lot of work, and relax a bit in summer and enjoy the outdoors more.
One of the first things I did (apart from the water instead of tea/coffee/sugar) was to cut out wheat /gluten, and I am sure this has helped hugely. I never did feel very comfortable eating bread, my stomach and/or intestines seemed puffy and uncomfortable. As diet affects hugely how well you absorb the things you really need. this is very important, and having things that don’t agree with you can hugely affect your ability to process things normally.
I was very grateful to specsavers who pointed out that I had blocked tear ducts, and gave me artificial tear drops as well as advised me to use warm water on my eyes morning and evening – closed eyes with hot wet flannel on them, to help melt the blockage. I extended this trick to include the rest of my facial sinuses, and even the thyroid itself.
I thought I was sleeping quite well, but I realise now that I wasn’t. A factor here, is that we have natural circadian rhythms that are affected by light and dark, so it is important not to have too much light while sleeping in order to rest properly, so I have made a few adjustments and am sleeping much more restfully. Funnily enough I used to get up most nights for the loo, but since drinking a lot more water (to try to help the dehydration I was suffering alongside hormone imbalances), I actually don’t get up in the night anymore. I also had a word with our cats to not disturb our night’s sleep.
Part of my regime to improve things has been to cut down on tea and coffee, and thus also sugar. This has proved to be quite easy to do, I just drink water instead almost every time. I don’t even eat chocolates or cakes / biscuits any more, and don’t have sugar on cereal either. Did you know that there is wheat in all the chocolates usually available? However, there are tasty wheat free snacks available instead, though you may have to get them in a health shop, and you can use alternative flours for baking. I have found some delicious alternative bread in my supermarkets (special areas for wheat free products) which is handy for the odd work sandwich. I’m not over the top about it, so the odd meal containing wheat when visiting is okay, and the odd helping of gravy passes too.
Please avoid alternative sugars folks, they are much worse than real sugar, they are actually toxic. It’s best to use brown sugar or honey when you do want to sweeten anything, but I have found I don’t really crave sugar like I used to. I think basically that the body is processing sugars better itself from other foods, esp carbs, now that I am not shovelling it straight down me.
One other major change I made was to sort myself out a good breakfast. I had researched coconut as a healthy medium chain fat that might be very beneficial, esp instead of other bad fats. (There is so much misinformation about fats, and other dietary things, that it is quite hard to sort out, but basically if you stick with natural things instead of things that have been highly processed, then you are much better off. They do some pretty nasty things to some fats – hydrogenated oils or trans fats are seriously nasty.) Anyway, so I started to use coconut in all sorts of forms in my diet, and also on my skin. Now I mostly use coconut milk from a tin, with plain yoghut for breakfast, and this could be with gluten free muesli, or with fruit, or with honey. The stuff in the tin is separated out into thick milk at the top and water at the bottom, so I empty it into a storage container for the fridge where it will last me several days, and first mix it all together into a creamy paste, and it seems to remain in that state okay. Apparently high fibre does reduce the effectiveness of thyroxin if you eat within the hour of taking it, so you need to decide to either separate them or not and then stick to that pattern, otherwise your thyroxin effectiveness with fluctuate. I also use coconut butter in currys, and add it to soups etc. I make a mean lentil curry with lots of onion and tomato paste.
There are loads of additional exotic foods (such as maca) one can try, but these are the main things that have worked for me. I do also eat plenty of apples. I have never been able to eat too much fruit, preferring lots of veg, but apples seem to help to keep my weight down. I do generally seem to thrive on quite a high protein low carb diet, but I know this is not for everybody – we all have different needs, and we need to get to know what suits our own body’s. A funny thing is that I used to seem to be slightly lactose intolerant, but since being dehydrated I have wanted (and had) loads of milk, with no side effects. Yoghurt was always okay thankfully.
The doc did not explain to me that the thyroxin needs to be taken at least 4 hours away from calcium, 3 hrs away from iron, 1 hr away from coffee, and ideally 1 hr away from food, especially fibre, for better absorption – so thankfully I had seen this in my research, and adhere to it by taking thyroxin when i first wake up, then waiting an hour before eating, then only taking the other supplements later in the day. (Apparently there is calcium in carbonated drinks so this would also reduce the effectiveness of thyroxin if taken closer than 4 hours of each other.) If one is not going to leave the 1 hr food gap, then one should be consistent, so that at least the effect does not fluctuate daily.
I’m feeling happier than i have done in about 5 years. Okay, so I do still feel pretty tired sometimes, but I am at peace with this now, and know how best to support myself. Luckily I am in a position to be able to manage my working hours quite well, and other people have been quite understanding when I have asked them to be….. so I won’t allow myself to keep going without a snack if I need one, and always ensure I have enough water.
I thought I was doing the best thing for myself pushing myself physically to keep going, but the lesson has been that this is no longer the case…… you can overdo it and cause fatigue in your body systems. This showed up in my endocrine system, but also through muscle pain which I could no longer ease by doing yet more exercise.
MORE DETAILS OF VITAMINS / MINERALS and some other notes:
Vit D (apparently actually classed as a hormone) is essential for making thyroid hormone, as are vit B6 and B2 (riboflavine). Vit D supplement is esp vital in winter if you suffer at all from SAD’s. Zinc, as I said, is essential to counter any copper excess, and also aids the conversion of T4 to T3. Iodine and Selenium have to be in balance, as mentioned. (Iodine partners with an amino acid called tyrosine to make T4.) Magnesium is essential for muscle and nerve function, and can help relieve actual muscle cramps, if you get those. B12 is essential for energy, and also helps relieve things such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis (if hypothyroid one probably does not absorb this from your diet). Calcium is essential to keep bones healthy at a time of vulnerability, and we also need the calcium, along with magnesium and potassium (plus sodium), and lots of water, for proper cell function.
Essential fatty acids are also essential for proper cell function, plus they reduce inflamation. Omega 3’s and 6. Omega 6 is in evening primrose oil – this also helps activate brown fat which generates body heat and raises metabolism. Evening primrose oil can also help relieve depression (including post-natal depression), and it can relieve period related migraines as well as vaginal dryness. Omega 3’s can be found in certain fish, seeds etc (look up which ones on internet).
My multivits also include co-enzyme Q10 which helps get energy to muscles. And probiotics to aid the digestive system.
Note – eggs seem to be good source of selenium if fresh free range esp
Selenium and magnesium tend to be low in our diets due to soil depletions, particularly in certain areas. Apart form selenium being needed to balance iodine, it also helps to decrease thyroid antibodies.
I’m also using artificial tears for dry eyes, but these are just getting a lot better in last few days, so need them less often.
I need to avoid anti-histamines as they will dry me out. And I seem to be allergic to an ingredient they seem to have only recently added to all the cold and flu remedies – phenylephrine. My husband has also realised he has a problem with this, in fact it was very dangerous as his tongue swelled up in the night.
I used to love swimming, but the chlorine in pools is absorbed via your skin, and is not good for you, especially if you have these sort of health issues. So I’m going to stick with yoga and other similar things, and lots of walking. We also really need to avoid absorbing nasty things through our skin from cleaning products and even toiletries.
If your adrenals are weak there are some supplements we should avoid: HGH (human growth hormone) and precursors of this such as argenine, L-argenine, and lysine. Also melatonin.
We should also ALL avoid hydrogenated oils (particularly partially hydrogenated) / trans fats.
By the way, I did also have a scan which checked all the organs in my abdominal area, and there was no sign of any issues there, so touch wood those parts of my endocrine system will be okay, especially if I keep up with drinking lots of water.
One can probably get a lot more tests done privately if your doc won’t do them and you don’t mind the cost. I will do this if I think I need to, but things seem okay for now. A kinesiologist should be able to test for vitamin/mineral deficiencies and for any allergies which may weaken your ability to cope. Tests for the adrenals include saliva tests at various times of day, so need monitoring.
I find that a scrub of my sore muscles in the bath also helps shift toxins, plus help to keep the muscles trim.
BOOKS THAT HELPED, and that I have written brief reviews for on amazon.co.uk –
Please note that the Mary J Shomon ones are very USA oriented – particularly regarding what doctors do and the resource lists, and there is naturally enough a lot of repeated information in some of them, but they are still invaluable resources.
Living Well with Autoimmune Disease by Mary J Shomon
Living Well with Hypothyroidism by Mary J Shomon
The Menopause / Thyroid Solution by Mary J Shomon
Coconut Cures by Bruce Fife
And “Natural Hormone Balance for Women” by Uzzi Reiss – I am copying my review here – “This is information that every woman should read, as even when young there are things we can do to ensure we age better. Sure wish I had read it long ago, although it is still very helpful now, after I have had issues with various parts of my endocrine system, probably all due to hormonal imbalance. I would have definitely done things differently, taken more responsibility earlier on for my hormonal health. As a total wellbeing consultant myself, I heartily recommend this ladies! However, it was written a while ago, and I think the advice regarding soya is out of date – I would not recommend soya now for various reasons, but also including that it is likely to be genetically modified.”
DIFFERENT TYPES OF HYPOTHYROIDISM
We need to remember that we should not just take advice from one person and do what they do because they might not have the same type of hypothyroidism as you. Also some people will just flippantly say, take iodine, without realising that it is crucial to balance it with selenium.
My issue is with the production of T4’s. If one makes T4’s okay, but has an issue with converting them to T3’s etc, then you need a different treatment, probably to replace those specifically. You could try taking zinc, as this helps the conversion.
And if your T4’s and T3’s are both okay, but if you have an issue managing to use them, than that is again another issue altogether, and some people are calling this Type 2 hypothyroidism, and you can look up books on this to help you. Tyrosine probably helps bind T3’s to their receptors, so you might like to look at the dietary sources of tyrosine which I have added below.
If your pituitary is not making the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in order to tell the thyroid to work then this may be another cause of my type of hypothyroidism. A high dose of vitamin D can help. Vit D also helps the conversion from iodine to T4 thyroid hormone. For this conversion you also need the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine may also play a part in binding T3 to it’s receptors. Vit B6 and Vit A are also both essential for conversion of iodine to thyroid hormone. (Be careful not to overdose on Vit A though.) Vit B2 (riboflavin) is essential for the whole endocrine system to work well, but especially the thyroid and the adrenals. Zinc helps convert T4 to T3.
I have not managed to try adding tyrosine to my diet yet as I don’t know where to get it – so if anyone has any tips about that I would love to hear them please. (I looked it up on Wikipedia “Tyrosine, which can also be synthesized in the body from phenylalanine, is found in many high-protein food products such as chicken, turkey, fish, milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, cheese, peanuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soy products, lima beans, avocados, and bananas.” So I certainly ought to be getting enough of that, in fact probably more that I used to as I have more milk, yoghurt, and pumpkin seeds in my diet now, but I always had cheese, fish, chicken etc, so this was probably never an issue. [If you are hypothyroid though, the advice is strongly given to avoid soya, and I understand that the protein form is not a good match for humans.]
Take care everyone, and I hope this helps.
5th June – results not very exciting, the TSH levels are still substantially too high, so still trying to stimulate more hormone production, however the hormone T4 levels themselves are now showing just within range, so doc wants me to simply retest again in another month as she reckons it is too early to be conclusive about whether I need more thyroxin or not until it settles down more. However, I am feeling very tired again, and brain foggy too. Could be partly due to things happening around me, but she seems to think it is normal to go in this curve where i got substantially better then it slacked off again…. not sure i understand. Meantime I am just going to try to listen to my body about what I eat and what I do rather than follow a strict regimen, and see what the retest shows. I am also planning to have some time out from work to rest and have fun in July and August, and hopefully enjoy some sunshine!
I have been posting some alternative eats and other info on a new pinterest board for anyone interested
2nd July – okay so the blood test I had last week showed results pretty much the same as last time, so the doc has doubled my dose – gonna be interesting to see how things go as that kicks in! I very much hope that I will be able to cope with life better, as it has been a struggle dragging myself around recently, falling asleep in all sorts of places, including on a merry go round horse at chessington. Hope to have a clearer mind as well, goodness that would be nice!
I do know though that there are other issues I have to try to address as well – Ph levels are not good, but I haven’t really found a solution yet as diet should be fine. Any ideas?
25th JULY 2014 update
Well, I’ve been on the increased dosage for almost a month now, and it’s definitely making a difference. I’ve got my mind back! No more fuzzy nonsense. I’ve got all my work up to date, feels great.
I’m not so sure about the physical side as unfortunately hurt my back at work and that pain has rather got in the way of being able to really tell how I’m doing. Also have been away camping and walking around twice now, so that will have given me a bit of a change. Not sure if more rest or more exercise, but different, and I have not been sticking quite so rigidly to my special diet while away, and that seems fine.
Mid Aug 2014
Yes, seem to be fine, steady now. Been climbing mountains again this summer, camping, swimming, and feeling on top of things.
I’ve registered for a Nutritional Therapist Diploma Course with the Health Sciences Academy which I will start in September – been wanting to do something like this for a while, yay!
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